5 out of 5 stars
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is the debut novel of American author, Ransom Riggs, and was first published in 2011. The novel centres around the narrating character, Jacob, and his search for answers after the death of his grandfather. First believing that his grandfather had been mauled by wild animals in the woods beside his home, Jacob is soon travelling to an island off the coast of Wales at the advise of his psychiatrist to find the orphanage is grandfather said he had once stayed in near the beginning of World War Two. Jacob soon learns that the stories his grandfather told him as a child and the photos he had shown him of all the children he had met were in fact true. The children are alive, Miss Peregrine is real, and so are the monsters they have been hiding from.
I went into this novel with mixed opinions. For my part, I was intrigued by the idea of a novel written around vintage photography – especially as those inspiring images were included in special annexes throughout the book. The synopsis drew me in and I wanted to know more. But there were also reviews out there saying this novel was poorly executed and a waste of a good idea.
After getting through the novel in a fairly quick time, I have to say that I disagree. This novel was fantastic.
Firstly, as a debut novel, this was exceptionally well written. I could hardly find any faults. Maybe the odd ‘lost in translation’ moment of an American author writing the voices of Welsh youths, but nothing on the scale of grammatical errors. Each sentence was structured properly which made the novel very easy to read. No sentence went on longer than it needed to and was worded so eloquently. It was amazing how the language used managed to help me successfully visualise this character as the seventeen-year-old boy he was intended to be. It was clear that a lot of time and effort went into making sure every paragraph made sense and that each word was spelled correctly. Editing these days seems to have become such a second thought that many books are published without being thoroughly checked for spelling or missing punctuation marks. Thankfully, this novel has broken the trend for me. It made it so much easier for me to focus on what was going on in the story instead of trying to work out how the author intended the sentence to be read – errors in grammar tend to throw the pacing in a story, and in a tale that requires the pacing to be well done to increase the tension and horror aspects it is important that it is done successfully. This story does that fabulously.
This style of writing helped also in the development of the many characters that floated in and out of the story. Jacob is a strong main character and his voice was very well written. Riggs managed to capture all the right emotions in the right way so easily and it was interesting reading the mental downfall and recovery of a young boy. He made everything feel natural. It was all told in past tense as well which is something that first-person-perspective novels rarely seem to do. The majority of the FPP stories I have read have been in present tense. I enjoyed this style as it shows Jacob telling the story of how he grew. He starts the novel with a really nice opening quote:
I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began happening.
It was a cool, chilling way to open a story because – even though you’re already expecting things to be abnormal from the cover and the title – it really opens up to the reader that things aren’t going to be regular in this story. Things will happen that will get you questioning what you call ordinary. You can already feel that Jacob the narrator has grown through the experiences he’s telling you about but at the same time you can see the child he was, the young adult he became and the progression of his character. He is a brat at the beginning of the novel but you can relate to him. Everyone at some point in their life will be stuck in a job they don’t like, possibly a shop. His only problem is the fact that his mother’s family owns the store he works in so as much as he acts out and tries to get fired, they won’t. He even points out what a brat he is. When his grandfather is killed and he thinks he’s seen what did it – and it is far from the wild dog his family tries to convince him it was – the description of his break down is really intricate and vividly described when his nightmares are told. You can feel the character’s pain. All his emotions are believable for a time – his anger at his grandfather for bringing him into such a mess, the relief he feels when he discovers he hasn’t gone insane.
This does bring me on to the one character fault I could find. Emma and Jacob’s interactions. This story is told in the space of a week or so. When Emma is first introduced and throughout the rest of the novel, she is a really likable female character. She is bold, headstrong, independent and tough. As a Peculiar, Emma is shown to have the gift of manipulating heat and fire. She can super-heat objects, air and water, she can create fire as a heat source or light, and most dramatically as a weapon. She is a protective character, curious and loudmouthed. When Jacob first meets her, she is very hostile towards him. She threatens him with a knife, shows that she is very willing to kill him if he was proved to be a monster and seemed opposed to his very being. But within the space of a few hours, she has warmed to him and agreed that he is who he says he is. She becomes very close and they do eventually start falling for each other. It’s not exactly insta-love, but it was still too fast.
Jacob himself even starts saying ‘I’m not going to kiss her’ when he starts thinking about their relationship, not just because of how quickly things have been changing but because of the revelation that she had been in love with his grandfather during his time at the orphanage and felt it would be some form of incest…
I have to admit that I found them adorable though. They worked as a couple if you forgot the rocky start, but it still felt very quick.
Each character was interesting in their own ways – from Miss Peregrine and the children with their gifts, the normal humans such as Jacob’s parents, right the way to the horrific monsters known as Hollows and Wights.
I was thoroughly surprised by the twist near the end of the novel. I genuinely didn’t see it coming. Wights and a Hollow attack and reveal so much so quickly, yet in such a way that it felt just right. You finally get to understand what is so scary about these creatures – from the simple Wights who kill as humans to their monstrous masters the Hollows, the creatures from Jacob’s nightmares. Tentacle-face, flesh-eating and vicious, they are truly terrifying and I really wouldn’t want to meet one in the dead of night.
Finally, a review about this book cannot be complete without talking about the photos. It was such a good feature! The images are described so vividly that you can first imagine them before turning a page and having them presented to you in order. They really add to the atmosphere of the novel as some of them are really spine-chilling and creepy.
Everything about this novel is well handled and thought through. The characters, the voices, the monsters, the time travel and magic. It all fits together nicely and creates a tale with such a well rounded yet open ending. It works.
( Image in the preview is of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Canada and can be found here.)